A movie review of “Good Kill”: Ethan Hawke plays an Air Force drone pilot who slowly descends into existential despair as he fights a war that technology has made both distant and intimate. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

Share story

“Don’t ask me if this is a just war,” the commanding officer of Air Force drone pilot Tom Egan says in “Good Kill.” “It’s just war.”

But it’s not. It’s unlike any war fought in the millennias-long history of warfare.

Never before have warriors been able to closely watch their enemies for long periods from thousands of miles away, watch them unobserved from high-flying unmanned missile-carrying aircraft. And then, on command, kill them with the push of a button on a joystick.

Movie Review ★★★½  

‘Good Kill,’ with Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Bruce Greenwood, Zoë Kravitz. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol. 103 minutes. Rated R for violent content including a rape, language, and some sexuality. Varsity.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol (“Gattaca”) takes a thoughtful and immensely gripping look at this new form of warfare in “Good Kill.” Egan (Ethan Hawke), a former F-16 pilot with six combat tours under his belt, now spends his days in a windowless air-conditioned trailer on a base in the Nevada desert looking at video monitors showing images from Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or, in the words of his commander (Bruce Greenwood, authoritative and plain-spoken), “whatever Godforsaken place we’re at war with that day.”

The war he wages is filled with paradoxes. It’s distant yet intimate. From 7,000 miles away, Egan can see the expressions on the faces of the people in the streets and roads below. It’s office shift work with deadly outcomes. The front line, from the suburb where he lives, is just a freeway drive away. “I blew away six Taliban in Pakistan earlier today, now I’m going home to barbecue,” Egan tells a clerk in a Vegas liquor store.

Those paradoxes eat at Egan. Hawke, eyes narrowed and flinty, voice low and increasingly full of despair, is quietly devastating as a warrior who comes to deeply question just what it is he’s doing. When the CIA, represented by a disembodied voice on speaker phone (Peter Coyote, chillingly implacable), takes over target selection from the military and starts ordering so-called “signature strikes” — which don’t attack specific individuals but rather groups of people that anonymous analysts deem to be acting in a suspicious manner — Egan descends into an existential crisis. This isn’t what he signed up for.

Niccol’s script is trenchant and insightful, and his visuals, paralleling the dusty rough terrain of Afghanistan with the dessicated Nevada landscape in the midst of which Egan’s suburb is located, are powerful visual signifiers of the psychological wasteland in which the character finds himself.